The congregation was seated by 7.30 pm sharp on Saturday night in Christ Church. A passer-by may have thought they were a bit early for the next morning’s Sunday service. The folks present were not however awaiting a sermon that evening. Instead, they got a rocking night of blues music from Papa George and Alan Glen.
After the opening number, George commented: “What a lovely place to play the blues.” Indeed it was. The acoustics in the Church turned out to be excellent as well.
Papa George and Alan Glen are veterans of the UK music scene, both having been playing for over 40 years each. During the course of two sets broken by an interval for refreshments, they both demonstrated superb musical skills and expertise.
George played a variety of guitars and sang lead vocals, whilst Glen provided sterling support on backing vocals and with his various blues harmonicas.
The second song, a blues classic, was Bring it on Home by Sonny Boy Williamson II. George then demonstrated that the evening was not to be one blues standard after another by playing one of his own tunes, Broken Mirror, which was very good. This was followed by the Robert Johnson version of Walkin’ Blues. This was excellent.
By this stage it was clear that Glen’s harmonica blended superbly with George’s guitar playing. Glen’s playing was very expressive and both musicians really complemented each other. George also showed his extremely accomplished guitar playing. It was hard to comprehend that just two instruments were making such powerful and melodic music.
There was a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere in the Church. Between songs both George and Glen had much humorous banter between themselves, and with the audience. Both of them made a real effort to interact and entertain the audience, as well delivering great music.
Another “step away from the blues” as George referred to it was Tom Waits’ New Coat of Paint. Later on we were treated to their funky version of Stone Fox Chase by Area Code 615 – better known as the theme tune to The Old Grey Whistle Test TV music show from the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Other songs included George’s own Blackjack, Key to the Highway, a song best associated with Big Bill Broonzy, the blues standard Rollin’ and Tumblin’ and a great version Robert Johnson’s Come on in My Kitchen, with some emotional and evocative vocals from George. After this last tune, Glen said: “Little did he know when he apparently sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads that a Johnson song would one day be played in Church.”
Nearing the finale, George said he’d had a request to play Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. Now with just a guitar and harmonica, many might have wondered how that might turn out. No-one need have worried – it was excellent! The closing song was Jimi Hendrix’ Red House, with another great rendition.
George then thanked the audience and bade us farewell. However the applause and clamour for “One more song” was too much and the duo relented to perform an encore. They finally closed their set with another Sonny Boy Williamson II song, Bye Bye Bird.
It was an evening of excellent music, blues and otherwise, with a really engaging couple of musicians in Papa George and Alan Glen. It seemed the pews downstairs in the Church were almost full and the concert, which was in aid of charities Helen & Douglas House, NOMAD and Aquabox raising around £3,000 for them. A great night all round. Thank you to the Rotary Club of Henley-on-Thames for organising it.